A review of the first period of the COVID19-related research

It’s been about two years since the appearance of the COVID-19 virus, and the pandemic is still a horrific roller coaster for most countries, and their citizens individually. From the beginning, and especially at the beginning, it was natural for doctors and researchers of various fields to put as top priority helping out with the situation. The research efforts continue, concentrating unprecedented energy and resources worldwide. However, moving forward on such a rapidly evolving subject brings challenges not only on the side of investigating new ideas, but also from the side of handling the sheer amounts of produced scientific literature. In essence, this means coping with reading, processing, exploiting, applying many, many,… many papers!

Only looking at the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been produced dozens of thousands of research articles (source: https://www.semanticscholar.org/cord19 with 59,888 articles referenced by May 1, 2020). A graph covering most of 2020, is shown next.

So the question pops up naturally: how can we index, filter, and digest such a cascade of scientific material?

Papers providing literature reviews is a standard tool. However, making reviews that distill results throughout a very long period at the course of the pandemic is, on the top of being ambitious and difficult, problematic and risky regarding its validity. Unless one builds upon clean indexing of smaller periods of time, which means on studies that study carefully the production and the evolution of ideas in a manageable shorter time-frame.

Still, in this context, literature reviews alone have limitations when presented only in a standard textual format that needs a lot of time to go through. For this reason, there is an additional need for online browsing tools that can be used to quickly search through that material and find the pieces you need to focus on.

Our new review article (technical report) realizes both these features: it’s a literature review that restricts itself to the very first weeks of the pandemic, and comes with a web tool that makes it easier to browse and search through the indexed papers. The technical paper has the title “Epidemic Models for COVID-19 during the First Wave from February to May 2020: a Methodological Review“, and was co-authored by M. Garin, M. Limnios, A. Nicola├», I. Bargiotas, O. Boulant, S.E. Chick, A. Dib, T. Evgeniou, M. Fekom, A. Kalogeratos, C. Labourdette, A. Ovchinnikov, R. Porcher, C. Pouchol, and N. Vayatis. This is a collaborative study conducted by members of Centre Borelli and other colleagues. Important to note that it was the laborious efforts of the PhD students Marie, Myrto, and Alice, that made this project to get this nice final form.

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

We review epidemiological models for the propagation of the COVID-19 pandemic during the early months of the outbreak: from February to May 2020. The aim is to propose a methodological review that highlights the following characteristics: (i) the epidemic propagation models, (ii) the modeling of intervention strategies, (iii) the models and estimation procedures of the epidemic parameters and (iv) the characteristics of the data used. We finally selected 80 articles from open access databases based on criteria such as the theoretical background, the reproducibility, the incorporation of interventions strategies, etc. It mainly resulted to phenomenological, compartmental and individual-level models. A digital companion including an online sheet, a Kibana interface and a markdown document is proposed. Finally, this work provides an opportunity to witness how the scientific community reacted to this unique situation.